It is sometimes difficult to classify the motion picture classic, Yankee Doodle Dandy, because it is the theatrical biography of song and dance man, George M. Cohan, while at the same time, it is a production that represents America and the Fourth of July. So, is it Cohan’s story or a patriotic piece? I suppose it is a little of both, and that works out okay.
What this movie is for sure is arguably the most recognized and identified performance for the dynamic, James Cagney. While much is made out of his gangster pictures and those type of characters, his tap dancing and association with Cohan makes him instantly synonymous with this motion picture. The Yankee Doodle number was engraved in my mind decades ago after seeing the movie for the first time. It simply shouts of American pride, and I am admittedly big on that. It is such a memorable number that it stands out through the passage of time.
The one thing to be on guard with when watching Yankee Doodle Dandy is that it really is not a true biography of Cohan. Of course, that is a danger in any movie based on a person. So much is changed, so it is really better to just enjoy it as a story without the biographical ties. There is not, for example, a Mary. Cohan was married twice and neither wife was named Mary. Another factor which I view more as an oversight is that there is but a small reference to the passing of Cohan’s sister and mother, and I always wanted to know more about that. Unfortunately, to find out what happened there, you have to research. The answers are just not in the movie.
I very much enjoy Rosemary DeCamp as the mom, and Jeanne Cagney, James’ sister, did great as his sister. Joan Leslie does well as the fictional Mary as well.
The ending that has Cohan watching the World War II soldiers marching by while singing “Over There” is an emotional ending that gets me every time. It really makes for a fitting conclusion of the film.